[The following chapter is from a forthcoming book. In reading this chapter please keep in mind that the chapter before this chapter was on the call of Amos in reference to the plague that had befallen Israel. The chapter after the material of this chapter explains in detail the “shakings” that occurred in the Bible. The reader, therefore, must be patient until the publication of the forthcoming book in order to read this chapter in the context of both the preceding and following chapters.]

Chapter 6

There is nothing like national or international pandemics or wars to draw out of the theological woodwork numerous prognosticators and their “end-of-time” pronouncements. This is so because such self-appointed prophets of doom often seek a following by instilling fear in the hearts of those who trust in their word. Such prophets existed before the revelation of the gospel, and they continue to exist in the religious world even to this day.

If someone today is seeking to frighten people into obedience through prognostications of “end-of-time” pronouncements, then that person has little understanding of the true reassuring power of the gospel in which we now stand. He has forgotten that our primary motivation for being disciples of Jesus Christ is based on our gratitude of the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. All other motivations for becoming a disciple of Jesus are minor in comparison to our response to the awesome love that was revealed on the cross. In fact, a young disciple who was at the foot of the cross, and into whose care was entrusted the blessed woman who brought into the world the crucified person who was at the time nailed to the cross for us, once wrote, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Our loving gratitude for the eternal deed of the cross must find its expression in our response to the cross. And there is no fear in a loving response to the love of God that was expressed on the cross. In fact, the one who adopted the mother of Jesus, wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has torment. He who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn 4:18).

There is reassurance in our hearts in all world calamities we might have to endure in this life because we understand the present gospel reign of King Jesus. We have tremendous love for our King, and thus remain in a loyal obedient relationship with Him in reference to His commandments. For this reason, the apostle Paul wrote in this following statement his personal response to the gospel reign of King Jesus: “Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men” (2 Co 5:11). We have this unquenchable desire to be the fearful for those of this world, and thus we seek to bring every soul into the security of the gospel that we enjoy.

The same apostle who wrote the preceding statement, also wrote the following in reference to the reassurance we experience as obedient subjects of the kingdom reign of the King of kings: “For you have not received a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption by which we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rm 8:15). As we walk in obedience to King Jesus, we walk with the reassurance that comes to us through His grace. We are assured that He will forgive us of all our sins as we continue with Him on this earthly journey (1 Jn 1:7). We will not fear during any earthquake, tornado, hurricane or virus.

As the disciples of Christ, we know the awesome authority of the judgment of our King. But because of the gospel of grace that we have obeyed, we have confidence in His redeeming blood. Therefore, we do not fear the Judge, nor do we fear during any calamities that occur in this world over which He has control. We preach the gospel because we know what the Judge will do to those who do not fear (obey) Him (See 2 Th 1:6-9).

We must understand the preceding in the context of the scope of the book. We must firmly believe that King Jesus has all things in control, regardless of what calamities we must endure as a result of any geological or biological attacks from the environment that make our journey in this world sometimes uncomfortable. Therefore, when the Bible speaks of the shaking power of the Creator and Judge of all things, we must understand His awesome power to shake all things in our present environment in order to accomplish the purpose for which He created the world. This was the contextual meaning of what Paul wrote in the following statement: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rm 8:28). When this world of humanity turns away from the purpose for which it was created, then it is time to shake humanity back into realizing the existence of the Creator of all things. In the process of this shaking, Christians must not lose sight of the fact that the Creator is shaking things back into some godly order. Nevertheless, though God has at times shaken civilization throughout history in order to accomplish His purposes, when He can no longer accomplish His purpose by disturbing humanity and our environment, then it is time to start expecting some finalization of all things.

The failure of the present-day prognosticators with their end-of-time fear tactics is that without an exception, they often fail to understand the historical context of the “shakings” of the Lord throughout history, particularly in reference to God’s people in the Old Testament. The word “shaking” is used several times throughout the Old Testament in reference to God directing a remnant of His people to the eventual fulfillment of gospel promises. However, if we do not understand the immediate historical context when those particular “shakings” took place, then we will invariably misunderstand the purpose for which the Lord shakes humanity today. Those who are obsessed with the end of the world unfortunately make this common mistake in their hermeneutics. It is for this reason that we must understand the historical context of the people whom the Lord shook in the past in order to remind ourselves of our Creator and the reason why we are on this earth.

Therefore, we would caution every student of the Bible not to be caught up in the present fanaticism that the present shaking of humanity throughout the world is some indication of the end of the world. All “shakings” in the Bible were in reference to purposes God sought to accomplish in time. They were not sent to signal of the end of times. If we use the Bible as our “dictionary” to define the metaphor of a “shaking,” then we cannot conclude that any “shaking” in time is a sign of the end of time. This is true because all of God’s “shakings” in the Old and New Testaments referred to something that took place in time.

It is a fact that the Lord allows natural shakings to occur throughout history. Sometimes, He directly causes the “shaking,” which was the case in the days of Amos. When He directly caused that “shaking,” He had to raise up a prophet to let the people know that the calamity that had befallen the northern kingdom of Israel was caused directly by Him. But we affirm that God no longer raises up special prophets to identify His “shakings.” Because of the inspired record of His “shakings” in the Old Testament, He assumes that all believers today have enough sense—at least biblical sense—to conclude that He is still at work in our world today. We need no special prophet to rise up among us and reveal that God continues to work in the affairs of this world. The fact is that He never ceased to so work. If someone would rise up to be a self-proclaimed God-sent prophet, then we know that such a preacher is a prognosticator, not a God-called prophet as Amos. He thus speaks presumptuously if he claims to be a prophet of God.

Therefore, this is where we must be cautious. God personally called Amos to inform the people concerning the origin of the natural calamity that came upon the people of his day. In other “shakings” in the Old Testament, God directly inspired prophets to reveal that a particular “shaking” was sent directly from Him in order to accomplish something in reference to the preservation of a faithful remnant until the entrance of the Son of Man into this world. Therefore, unless a prophet is raised up directly by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit to identify that a particular “shaking” has been sent directly from God, then we must assume that any “shaking” that we must endure in these times is simply the occurrence of the natural or biological laws of this world in which we live. We must believe this regardless of our belief that God continues to work behind the scene of natural laws in order to accomplish the same purpose of all His “shakings” that He brought upon the world from the beginning of time.

Natural occurrences (“shakings”) usually accomplish the same result as the directly imposed “shakings” that God used in the past in order to produce fear in the hearts of the people. But we must affirm that since the days when King Jesus came in judgment on national Israel in A.D. 70, there have been no prophets directly called by God to identify a particular natural shaking to have been sent directly from God. If a presumptuous prophet would seek to rise up among us to supposedly speak by the Holy Spirit to identify that a particular “shaking” is directly from God, then we must assume that that person is not a true prophet. He or she is a self-appointed prognosticator who seeks to create fear in the hearts of men, often for his own profit.

The true believer simply understands that we are in the bondage of a natural world that is groaning, as we, for deliverance from this present state of existence. This is the thought that the apostle Paul revealed in reference to our present bodily state in a physical world that is subject to the laws of nature, both biological and geological:

“For the creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who has subjected it in hope, because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors together until now in pains of birth. And not only that, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rm 8:20-23).

It is time to take another look at the preceding statement, realizing that every natural or biological catastrophe of this present world is a reminder that both the earth and ourselves groan for deliverance from this present state of existence. It is not that we need a prophet as Amos to rise up and tell us its so. It is that we as believers realize that King Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power (Hb 1:3). And though it may seem that all things are out of control, by faith we must conclude that He always has everything under control. We remember the following statement by the Holy Spirit:

“You have put all things in subjection under His feet. For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him. But now we do not yet see all things put under Him” (Hb 2:8).

[Other chapters will be published of this book when they are completed.]

Unleasing The Gospel

LOCKING DOWN THE GOSPELWhat do you miss the most during this lockdown? If you are a gospel-driven disciple, then it is being distanced from those who need to hear the gospel. It is being frustrated about not being able to go to others and sharing the message that will unlock heaven for those who have no hope beyond surviving the coronavirus.
This book may not be appropriate for these times while we are in lockdown as gospel-driven saints. But maybe our moment of solitude in the confinement of our houses will re-ignite a spirit of evangelism, so that when we are eventually released, we will burst forth into all the world with the gospel.
Just keep in mind that it is not the nature of the gospel to be in a state of lockdown. Therefore, it is not the nature of a gospel-driven disciple to be living continually in lockdown in his or her house. We may have in the past chosen to voluntarily lock ourselves down from our responsibility to preach the gospel to the lost. But now that we are in lockdown against our will, maybe through sincere prayer and repentance, we can once again restore our spirit to its purpose of preaching the gospel to our neighbors once we are freed from house arrest.

Beyond Corporate Education

A good illustration of our present predicament in these times would prove our point. For example, it is sometimes the case that when a Bible student in these days of the institutional church seeks to go into all the world as a missionary, supporting churches require that the would-be missionary receive a degree in missions from some accepted school that offers a degree in “missology”—the word itself even sounds professional. In order to receive this degree in missions, the student must go into financial debt for thousands of dollars that he has received from a government student loan. Graduated students from all secular educational institutions across America now owe more than two trillion dollars in student loans. This is all because of the corporate educational establishment of America. This is the case with secular educated graduates, but also with those who have graduated from an institutional Bible school.

Once the corporate educational institution has received its tuition of borrowed government money from the student, and then handed the student a piece of paper with a “degree” stamped on it, the educational corporation has its money and is happy. The student then goes forth after graduation with a debt that often takes ten years to pay back to the government. In reference to those who graduate with a degree in missions, the student does not enter the business world in order to pay back his debt of thousands of dollars. As a marginally supported evangelist, his family simply suffers until the debt is paid. Nevertheless, after graduation, the student debt is no longer the concern of the corporate Bible educational institution. Their corporate institution of education has received the tuition money, and the graduate walks away with a decade of government debt hanging over his head.

We have heard of more than one student asking a possible supporting church to help him pay off his debt in order to be sent forth as a missionary to preach the gospel. If the church is not willing, then usually the hopeful missionary simply does not go into all the world to preach the gospel. There is something wrong with this picture. Nevertheless, this is true in many cases because so many institutional churches now require a degree in missions from a corporate educational Bible institution before they will send the graduated student into all the world in order to preach the gospel.

The coronavirus that has plagued the world may change our attitudes concerning the supposed necessity of corporate education in a classroom. Throughout the lookdown to control the virus, schools have closed and universities have been shut down. Thousands of students have been sent back home and moved into their bedroom classrooms. The Internet has now become the medium of bringing education to the student, instead of sending the student off to the classroom of some corporate educational institution.

The world is discovering what Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, discovered years ago. After graduating from other schools, he determined that he had set long enough in a classroom. So he spent only two days in a classroom at Stanford University before he walked out. He reasoned, “Why am I sitting here listening to this teacher when I could get the same information in a book.” So Musk dropped out of Stanford, bought the books, and then educated himself in all that he needed to know about any subject. In 1999 he founded, which later became PayPal. In 2002 he founded SpaceX, and in 2003 he founded the electric Tesla car company. Christians need to remember this example. In order to preach the gospel, all that is needed is a knowledge of one Book. Spend sometime in study of this Book and one will be qualified to preach the gospel. No professional classrooms needed.

If every disciple did this, then there would be a system of mutual checks and balances in reference to conclusions that each member draws from his or her personal studies. But when we send one of our number off to a Bible school, we are tempted to submit to the graduates personal conclusions when he frames and hangs his Bible diploma on the wall of our classroom.

The Holy Spirit knew that all we needed was a Book. If we love the word of God, then we will personally study the Book. For two thousand years, the Spirit has depended on this system of Bible education. As long as one has the Book of all the gospel prophecies and fulfillments that connect all the prophecies to Jesus, then one can learn the gospel message and go forth to preach the gospel. No Bible diplomas or degrees needed.

Today, if one has a computer, he or she has access to thousands of books that have been written on any Bible subject. One can receive in the bedroom classroom studies in any Bible subject that one can imagine. In these times of school closings, people are learning, as Musk, that paying thousands of dollars in tuition to a corporate educational institution is not necessary, especially in reference to studying the Bible. Every church of Christians should be an educational medium through which every member can have in-depth studies in the word of God. This was the way it was by the end of the first century. It is the way it should be today.

But we must be clear on this point. In the secular world the guarantee that one is qualified for a particular work for which he is hired is a degree in studies that relate to that work. But in reference to gospel matters, it is the degree by which one lives the gospel that qualifies him for the work of the ministry. The faithful worker for the Lord has his or her entire life to study the Book. There will be only one graduation for the faithful. Death will terminate our studies on earth, and the graduation ceremony will take place on the last day when the Teacher says, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

The preceding thoughts compose the picture that we read in Acts 8:4: “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” When we speak of gospel restoration, we must not rely on the corporate educational system, as well as the corporate church that depends to much on such in order to provide those who would go forth to preach the gospel. These institutions often hinder the preaching of the gospel, especially in the underdeveloped world. It is corporate institutional churchianity at is best when we allow only the professionals who have Bible diplomas and degrees to be our “official” representatives to preach the gospel. It is a system of religion that Satan has done well in preparing throughout the last century in order to greatly limit the preaching of the gospel to all the world in this century. Preachers in the developing world need to base their confidence on the gospel, not on a Bible diploma or degree from some Bible school. The gospel-living disciple who has only one Book often knows more about the gospel than the Bible degree graduate from a corporate Bible educational institution.

[End of series]

Moving Beyond Degrees

But we need to be straightforward about this matter. Institutional Bible schools are often established with the goal of perpetuating a legal restoration. This is accomplished by cloning the graduates after the legal identity of the churches who recommend the schools. But we must remember that it does not take years of full-time Bible study to learn the simple gospel message. The fact that some churches demand that one have a Bible diploma or degree before they can stand before a group of people and preach is a testimony to the fact that those who make such a demand do not themselves understand the centrality of the gospel to our total beliefs and behavior as Christians. At least they have not been able to separate gospel from law. And in many cases, they cannot separate preaching the gospel from religious professionalism. Bible schools are great for learning the Bible, but they must not be entered in order to become a lawyer of the Bible, or a professional religious worker.

If one does eventually yield to the pressure to validate his right to preach with a Bible diploma or degree, then after the required years of full-time study he sometimes goes forth with a degree in theology and law, with little emphasis on the gospel. Throughout his many years of study in theology and law, these two subjects became more important than gospel. Upon graduation, therefore, he is eager to debate and defend his theology, but he may not know enough gospel to be able to separate law and gospel in his Bible discussions.

Some churches demand that their preachers study as long as six years in a theological seminary before they are “licensed” to preach to the churches of their fellowship. We have found, however, that these graduates have studied a great deal of theology, some Bible, but little gospel. Nevertheless, they are qualified to supposedly lead the people. And they do professionally lead, but they do so as professional religionists.

It might be good to close with a brief reminder, if not challenge, for those who believe that they are not valid preachers of the gospel unless they are officially schooled in the “profession” of preaching. Those who are obsessing over some type of validation in order to preach must again consider Apollos (See At 18:24-28). This zealous young man set out from Alexandria, Egypt with the love of God in his heart. He was “an eloquent man and mighty in the [Old Testament] Scriptures” (At 18:24). But he had no New Testament. He had little, if any, firsthand knowledge of Jesus. All he knew was that John the Baptist had showed up by the Jordan River and was baptizing people in preparation for the coming Messiah. That was enough for Apollos to go forth and preach what he knew from the Old Testament.

But eventually, Apollos encountered two Christians sitting in a Jewish synagogue in Ephesus. Now those who thirst after some Bible diploma and degree before they feel that they are professionally qualified to preach the gospel, need to follow closely the example of Apollos. Apollos encountered Aquila and Priscilla in the synagogue in Ephesus. In that synagogue, Apollos “spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord” (At 18:25). He preached what he knew, though some of that which he knew was incorrect. Nevertheless, he went forth from Alexandria and preached regardless of his lack of knowledge of the whole gospel itself. When the two Christians in Ephesus realized that he needed more information on the gospel than what John the Baptist had given, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (At 18:26).

After this brief classroom session on the gospel with Aquila and Priscilla, notice carefully the Holy Spirit’s historical statement concerning what happened next in the life of Apollos:

“And when he [Apollos] desired to go to Achaia, the brethren [in Ephesus] encouraged him and wrote the disciples [in Achaia] to receive him. And when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace” (At 18:27).

It is interesting to note that the brethren in Ephesus did not hinder Apollos from going forth until he had first graduated from some Bible school in order to be validated as an “official” preacher of the gospel. Neither did they send him off somewhere to Bible school. Neither could Aguila or Priscilla lay hands on him in order that he receive, as Timothy and Titus, the miraculous gift of inspired teaching (See At 8:18). After his teaching by the husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, the brethren in Ephesus knew that Apollos knew the whole gospel of grace. With that simple knowledge of the gospel, they realized that he could encourage everyone to whom he went. So they immediately sent him forth with a full understanding of the gospel message.

The point is that if one knows the gospel, then he is validated to be a proclaimer of the gospel. There is no professionalism involved. This would be characteristic of ordinary people as Peter and John when they stood before the highly educated Jewish leaders of Judaism:

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they marveled. And they took note that they had been with Jesus” (At 4:13).

It simply does not take several years in a Bible school in order to learn the simplicity of the message of the gospel. Apollos had two instructors for a brief time in Ephesus, and then he was so qualified with the message that the brotherhood in Ephesus had enough confidence in his knowledge of the gospel to support him as an evangelist to Achaia. The Ephesian brethren did not even give to Apollos a “study Bible” when they sent him on his way. He did not even receive a printed New Testament, for at the time no New Testament books were written. He had no diploma to present to the brethren in Corinth. All he had was the gospel and a knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Now compare this scenario with the institutional religions of today. Such institutional religions have moved so far into religious professionalism that it seems that they will never recover. We are so engulfed in a quagmire of religious professionalism that sincere people are intimidated to feel they are not qualified to preach the gospel unless they are a graduate from some corporate Bible school. Even worse, some feel that if they do go to a Bible school, then that school must be accredited by some pagan government. We are further removed from the simplicity of New Testament Christianity than we think.

It is interesting that the brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter for Apollos to present to the brethren in Corinth. Because Apollos had received instructions from Aquila and Priscilla, the brethren stated in the letter that they should receive Apollos (At 18:27). Therefore, upon his arrival in Corinth, the Corinthian brethren were presented with a letter, not an accredited Bible school diploma or degree. The result was that in Corinth, Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews publicly, showing by the [Old Testament] Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ [Messiah](At 18:28). When Aquila and Priscilla connected all the dots of prophecy to Jesus of Nazareth, Apollos was able to preach the power of the gospel. He needed no Bible diploma or degree to do this.

Another example of this would be even more fitting to prove our point on this matter, as well as remind ourselves that we are presently stuck in a religiosity that is hindering the preaching of the gospel to the world. Two thousand years ago, a preacher of the gospel once met a government official on the road that went through the desert between Jerusalem to Gaza. The government official, as Apollos, knew the Old Testament. However, he was confused concerning the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53. When the desert preacher asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”, the official replied, “How can I, except someone guides me?” (At 8:30,31). And with that response, Bible class was open, but only for a brief time.

The Bible class was opened when the desert preacher “opened his mouth, and beginning at this scripture [of Isaiah 53] he preached Jesus to him” (At 8:35). The Bible class did not go on for years. It went on long enough for a response to come from the official in reference to his obedience to the gospel that Philip preached. The official said to the preacher, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (At 8:37). And then graduation occurred. The government official “commanded the chariot to stand still. And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (At 8:38).

Now notice the conclusion to the whole story: After graduation, the Holy Spirit first extracted Philip out of the desert classroom and sent him off to teach in Azotus (At 8:40). Philip did not even have a chance to write a letter of recommendation for the eunuch as the Ephesian brethren did for Apollos. However, doing so would have given the pretense of one preacher passing on to another a supposed “evangelistic authority,” which thing is nowhere taught in the Scriptures.

With class over, the eunuch simply went on his way back to Africa, rejoicing all the way (At 8:39). Also, Philip did not give him a “study Bible” in order that he know and preach the gospel. All he had was the brief explanation that Philip gave in connecting all the gospel dots between the Old Testament prophecies and Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world. Neither, might we add, did Philip send the eunuch off to Bible school in order to be validated with a diploma or degree to be a preacher of the gospel. We only know that the eunuch had in his hand the Old Testament Scriptures. He had no New Testament Scriptures, for none were written at the time. Once the dots of the Old Testament Scriptures were connected to Jesus of Nazareth, the eunuch understood the gospel. So off he went to preach this gospel to Africa.

Though Bible schools are good in offering studies in the word of God and student fellowship, we must not forget that they have their limitations. Because we have become so engulfed in religious professionalism, Bible schools have often become a hindrance to the natural flow of the gospel going into all the world by those as Apollos and the eunuch.

[Next in series: April 20]

Moving Beyond Legal Restoration

The result of the scenario of the previous chapter is that misunderstandings concerning the gospel are perpetuated through the Bible educational institutions of a particular network of churches. This was the great disservice of the Reformation Movement leaders five hundred years ago. In their flight from the constraints of Roman Catholicism, they ran from Catholic catechisms and power. But their primary focus was not to run to the gospel. They were more involved in theology, and less in gospel. In fact, they ran straight through Jerusalem and often established the very institutional religions as that from which they fled. The only thing that was different was some organizational restructuring and name changes. Theirs was mostly a religious political movement, not a true gospel restoration movement.

Those who later laid claim to restoration movements within the family of reformed churches, also ran into some problems. Legal restorations were generated in the nineteenth century in order to legally call confused religionists out of the quagmire of reformist religiosity. The problem with these movements was that the focus for restoration was more on law, and less on gospel.

A similar false security is true among many independent churches today. Though their “restoration” was not based on the theology of self-justification through meritorious law-keeping—they knew and know little Bible—another standard of justification was inadvertently established as groups violated the focus of Jesus that he taught in John 16:14: The Holy Spirit “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will declare it to you.” The exaltation of the Holy Spirit over Jesus became the standard by which one was judged to be faithful, or one judged others to be spiritual. This was the standard of a supposed direct influence of the Holy Spirit on the free-moral behavior of the individual. In this movement, self-justification shifted from law, or traditions, to one’s own personal experience with the Holy Spirit, specifically in many cases, the manifestation of the Spirit through “tongue speaking.” Contrary to the legal restorationist who focused on strict obedience to law, the experientialist secured his or her justification through some experience with the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, whether through a legal justification, or an experiential justification, both systems of religion are contrary to the justification that was unleashed from heaven through the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. The gospel is simply contrary to both legal and experiential justification.

Legal restorationists had an inherent problem within their movements. In seeking to establish a legally defined church, focus was diverted from the primary importance of the message of the gospel. Therefore, in their debates over what laws were binding in order to be justified as the true church, the debaters often ended up splintering over numerous opinions and creeds that they assumed must be meritoriously performed correctly by individuals in order to be justified before God. When any group of the movement eventually settled on a common opinion or creed that would be recognized and obeyed by the majority of the movement, then they too established their own Bible educational institutions that would perpetuate their common creed.

In legal restorations, gospel always becomes obscure in the quagmire of opinions and creeds, and thus falls away from being the primary foundation for unity, and the first message to be preached to the unbelievers. In fact, the gospel is often relegated to a legal system of law that must be meritoriously obeyed in order for one to justify himself before God. One could preach this message of self-justification, pointing out all the right scriptures for the laws to be obeyed, but never focus the incarnation of the Son of God, His atoning sacrifice, and His present gospel kingdom reign over all things, which reign includes the continued submission of the members as the body of Christ. In this movement, the preachers often ended up preaching more church than gospel. They thus reversed the order of importance. It is paramount to understand the church of our Lord, but it is absolutely imperative that we first understand and preach the gospel of Christ upon whom the church of Christ is founded.

In the midst of all this religious diversity, and in their efforts to set themselves apart from the religious world, many of the present leaders of the independent church movements around the world have developed some unfortunate motives for acquiring a diploma or degree in Bible in order to perpetuate their movements. As previously stated, they seek validation for their assumed positions in order that they too can be considered to be on the same theological level as their counterparts in the traditional churches from which they supposedly restored Christianity. They often feel that they are not valid preachers unless they have some official award from a recognized, if not government accredited, Bible training institution.

But there is often an inherent error in the motives and reasoning of degree-seeking religionists. Many zealous leaders are often seeking an award in law, not gospel. They are often motivated to study the Bible in order to acquire some degree in the law of the word of God, but not a better understanding of the revelation of the gospel through the word of God. If the law is learned in every detail, then it is assumed that one will be better prepared to defend the church. In such an intellectual quest, one’s understanding of the gospel often becomes a subpoint on an outline of law. For example, as stated previously, established and often opinionated “laws concerning the Lord’s Supper” become more important than the gospel of which the Supper is to remind us. Legal restorationists will always quibble over their supposed “laws” in partaking of the Supper, with the subject of the gospel moved into the background of the discussion.

A legal restorationist who has become a religionist is easily betrayed by his own contentions. The religionist argues over whether to serve the fruit of the vine with one cup or several cups. The gospel restorationist, on the other hand, could care less how many cups are used. His focus is not on the cup, or cups, but on the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross for his redemption. The obsession of his concern is Christ, not cups.

[Next in series: April 18]

Moving Beyond Professionalism

There is a new religious world in which we live today that is somewhat different from the traditional religions that were predominant throughout the past. This is a world in which independent thinking people have, by the millions, moved away from the institutional traditional religions that were born out of the Reformation Movement five hundred years ago. It is in this world of independent religions that we have an opportunity to preach the simplicity of the gospel. In preaching the gospel to these groups, it is usually not necessary to penetrate five hundred years of heritage that preserved institutional traditional religions. It is our opportunity today, therefore, to approach those who have a more open mind. These are those religious groups who are not defending some traditional heritage.

However, one of the interesting phenomena about this new paradigm of independent religious leaders and churches is that most are obsessed with an urge on the part of the leaders of the movement to be validated in their leadership. They are often obsessed with a desire to be validated in their leadership with some diploma or degree in Bible from a Bible school. Since most of these leaders left the heritage of their former traditional faiths, they covet a parallel professional validation as the leaders of the mainline churches they left. They thus seek some diploma or degree that indicates that they too have a right to preach. But their desire is often misguided.

We have had numerous calls from those who want some type of Bible diploma or degree in order that they too can be considered preachers. In fact, the calls almost always revolved around a distorted view of the caller having a right to be a preacher. Callers feel that they cannot preach the gospel unless they have some Bible diploma or degree, and preferably one that is awarded by some accredited Bible institution.

This validation is so strong among some leaders that they believe they do not have a right to preach the gospel unless they can hang a framed Bible diploma or degree on their office wall. We can understand this feeling because some governments of the continent on which we live will not register a group as a church if the preacher does not have a recognized diploma in Bible or religious ministry.

So the problem is that if one feels that he is not qualified to be a preacher without this piece of paper, then it is unlikely that he truly understands the gospel, and especially the responsibility that every disciple has in going forth to his own neighbors to preach the message of the gospel. Such desires for validation, therefore, are often soaked in professionalism, and subsequently become hindrances to the preaching of the gospel by every member of the body.

Nevertheless, we are not deceived by this obsession. At least on our continent among independent religions, those who desire an awarded validation to preach are often seeking to join the host of professional religious workers who bring the name of Jesus into disrepute among the unbelievers. These diploma seekers want to be one of the professional full-time preachers in the community in order to extract support from their subjected and often deceived constituents.

We have also discovered throughout a half century of contact with the “professionals” of various religious groups, that those who have successfully acquired a validating degree from some educational institution are not that eager to discuss matters of the gospel. This is true, specifically of those who trust in a framed degree that hangs on their office wall. These “professionals” are often less inclined to discuss matters concerning the gospel of the incarnation of the Son of God, which incarnation must be emulated in our own lives (See Ph 2:5-8). In fact, the desire to be validated with a Bible diploma or degree by many religious leaders is contrary to the mind of Christ that must be reflected in our own incarnational living. Leaders often desire the degree in order to extract more money from supporters, but these misguided religious professionals are often as the Pharisees who loved money. This love of power and possessions is certainly contrary to the example that Paul left for all those who would live after the mind of Christ (See Ph 2:5-8).

Consider also the problem that such awards sometimes present a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel by the ordinary disciple. The “ordinary member” is often intimidated by the degree holder, thinking that he or she is less valuable in proclaiming the gospel than the professional degree holder. This is true because the diploma or degree from an accepted Bible institution of one’s traditional church is a signal of loyalty to that particular religious group, as well as an indication that one be exalted by the membership of the church to be a “scholar” in the word.

In order to be supported financially and exalted among the members, the degree holder often feels loyal to the accepted educational institution that is represented by the brotherhood of churches that support the accepted Bible school. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for tentmakers, as Aquila and Priscilla, to discuss the gospel with a graduate from such a school.

One the other hand, if the graduate is instructed more accurately in the way of the Lord, then he might feel disloyal to his teachers who signed his diploma or degree if he changes his beliefs. Even if one personally grows in the grace and knowledge of the gospel through his own Bible study, this can be a problem (See 2 Pt 3:18). Any graduate FROM any Bible school must grow in the knowledge of the word of God beyond his former instructors. If he or she does not, then his former instructors failed to inspire their students to study the Bible throughout their lives.

[Next in series: April 16]

Gospel Seminar In Rome

We could use the word “aggressive” in reference to carrying out our responsibility to proclaim the gospel to the religious leaders who lead others in their faith. But if our temperament has not been fine-tuned by the gospel, then we may come across somewhat offensive, if not arrogant. However, love and deep-seated concern for the souls of people have a tendency to move us out of our cocoons of comfort, and correct our arrogance. When we love God because of His awesome love us through His Son, it is then that we will always feel uncomfortable with ourselves until we say something about His love for us through Jesus. John worded it thus: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

We must assume that there those who spiritually lead others also have a great thirst to better understand the gospel. However, they may not realize that they have a limited understanding of the gospel, or are teaching a twisted concept of the gospel. Or, they may be teaching the “other gospel” by attaching the traditions of their religious heritage to the gospel. If the leaders are the graduates of some Bible seminary, then we can be assured that they have a great deal of confidence in the framed diploma that hangs on their office wall. Therefore, they are unlikely to ask for any discussions concerning the gospel, or how to separate the good news from all the religious heritage they learned in an institutional Bible school. Nevertheless, if they do not ask for a discussion concerning the gospel, then we must take the initiative and ask them to come for a meeting that is directed toward gospel discussions. This is what Paul did when he first arrived in Rome as a prisoner for the gospel.

It is the nature of the good news to be preached to the world. Paul and most of early Christians understood this. This nature has not changed. This means, therefore, that the message of the gospel must be preached in any assembly wherein there are those who seek to know the truth of the gospel. If one asks, and is accepted, then it is incumbent on those who know the gospel to preach to any group that desires to know more about the gospel. But if the religious leaders do not ask, then we must ask them to join with us in gospel discussions.

We live in a world where there is a great deal of confusion preached by those who have a distorted view of the gospel. We must keep in mind, therefore, that there are thousands of assemblies of religionists throughout the world that are opportunities as the Jewish synagogues of the first century. Those were assemblies of religious Jews who were waiting for the Messiah (Christ). They continued faithful in their cocoons, not knowing that the Messiah had already come in Jesus. In their weekly study of the Old Testament prophets, they had not connected all the dots that would lead them to understand that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled every prophecy concerning Him being the Messiah (Lk 24:44,45).

As with the prophets who wrote the prophecies, the early Jews also were not able to connect the gospel dots that were revealed (See 1 Pt 1:10-12). As the prophets, they could never have connected the gospel dots to discover the mystery of the gospel in the Old Testament. They could not because the revelation of the gospel mystery was not completely revealed until the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the Pentecost of A.D. 30.

When Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner of the State, one of the first things he did was to call unbelieving Jewish leaders together for a “gospel seminar” (At 28:14). He called together Old Testament Bible students who could not connect the prophecies of the Messiah with Jesus of Nazareth. When the leaders came together, he first explained why he was in chains. He said, “I have called for you, to see you and to speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (At 28:20). And then the inquisitive Jews stated, “But we desire to hear from you what you think, for as concerning this sect [of Christians] we know that it is spoken against everywhere” (At 28:22). We see in these religious leaders the studious spirit of the Bereans. The Bereans were considered noble by the Holy Spirit because they were Bible students (See At 17:11). Therefore, a special day of study was subsequently appointed for a seminar on the gospel. Luke recorded of this event,

“And when they had appointed him a day [for teaching], many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning until evening. And some believed the things that were spoken and some did not believe” (At 28:23,24).

Our focus is on those who believed. If Paul had not conducted this gospel seminar, then how many people throughout history would have been lost?

Paul reasoned, and thus persuaded, because he had many years before stepped outside his own Jewish cocoon in order to help others connect the dots of the gospel. He and the early disciples were willing to go into any religious assembly in order to preach the gospel. If there were no assembly, then they were all willing to set up special assemblies for gospel teaching. If we are not willing to do this on a continuing basis today, then we do not understand the nature of the gospel, nor our responsibly as a disciple of Christ. We subsequently miss a tremendous opportunity for evangelism.

If we join the cocoon of disputers who criticize and intimidate those who want to preach the gospel outside their Sunday morning boxes, then we might find ourselves working against the gospel. But if we are willing to go to those who are seeking a better understanding of the gospel, then we might be surprised. There are, as in the Jewish synagogues of the first century, a great number of “Apollos” preachers there who are waiting for someone to come and explain to them “the way of God more accurately” (At 18:26). And once they know he gospel more accurately, then they in turn will go to others and do the same.

[Next in series: April 14]

Following A Gospel Example

The example of the apostle Paul is a prime example of evangelistic gospel living. In fact, the Holy Spirit made a general statement concerning Paul’s behavior that should be the nature of our own evangelistic living. For example, on one occasion Paul left the city of Philippi and went over to the city of Thessalonica, “where there was a synagogue of the Jews” (At 17:1). And then Paul, “as his custom was, went in to them” (At 17:2).

Disputing brethren today would probably complain that Paul should not have gone into an assembly of those who were not of their particular fellowship. But he did because his purpose of life was evangelistic. At the time he went in among these unbelievers, the whole assembly was composed of religionists who followed the “Jews’ religion” (See Gl 1:13). They were an assembly of people of faith, though misguided in reference to the Messiah.

We must note also that Paul did not just go to this assembly for a single visit. He went back every Saturday for three weeks (At 17:2). As long as leaders would allow him to talk to the assembly, he went back. When in Corinth “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath” (At 18:4). He continued preaching the gospel to the Corinthian Jews until some “resisted and blasphemed” (At 18:6). The example is that we must always ask to preach in the assembly of any who have some faith, especially if they believe in Jesus. We must not forget that the gospel not only delivers us from sin, but also from the bondage of religion (Gl 5:1).

One thing that we have discovered is that all who believe in Jesus as the Son of God have a common belief in this matter of faith. If we preach the incarnate and crucified, resurrected, ascended and reigning King Jesus, then we have a common foundation for building unity upon this gospel message. There is so much to preach about the gospel that we have discovered that other groups will keep inviting us back in order to hear more about the gospel. On the other hand, if we preach a legal definition of our church heritage, then we set ourselves up to be in competition with the religious heritage of others. Competing heritages never arrive at unity. We must not confuse gospel with heritage, other than the fact that it is our heritage to preach only the gospel.

If it were Paul’s custom to enter only into the assemblies of the disciples, then he would never have stepped inside the assembly of those of another faith. The result of his preaching in the synagogue of Thessalonica was that “some of them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (At 17:4). Now suppose that Paul and Silas never had enough courage to step outside their “church cocoon” in order to step inside the “Jews’ cocoon” on the Sabbath? How many thousands in the years afterward would have been lost as those first converts in Thessalonica would never have had the opportunity to hear, and then teach the gospel to their families? Cocooned disputers need to understand that they are working against the gospel when they criticize those as Paul and Silas who are willing to step outside the cocoon of their fellowship in order to go with the gospel into other cocoons of faith where people are searching for a better understanding of the gospel.

It was Paul’s custom to live according to the nature of the gospel. Since the gospel is good news that offers those in the bondage of religion the opportunity to live in the freedom of Christ, then it is inherent in the nature of the gospel that it be preached to all people of faith, regardless of who they are, or where they assembled. At least this was the common practice of the apostle Paul and other evangelists as they scattered throughout the first century (See At 8:4).

On another occasion during his ministry, Paul came into the city of Ephesus. Again, he went into the synagogue of Jewish religionists. He “spoke boldly for three months” (At 19:8). This was not a once-off effort for one Sabbath. He continued teaching in this assembly of unbelievers for a period of twelve weeks. He was there every Saturday “reasoning and persuading” concerning the gospel of the Messiahship and kingdom reign of Jesus (At 19:8). It sometimes takes time for those who are in the bondage of religion to understand the freedom that they can enjoy in Christ. We wonder where the disputing brethren were during this time when Paul showed up on the Sabbath in the synagogue of the Jews, and then on Sunday with the saints?

Would we dispute with Paul if he showed up in the assembly of another religious group on Sunday morning to preach the gospel, but did not assemble with those who already knew and had obeyed the gospel? Do the disputers have the right to restrain the evangelist from preaching the gospel to those who meet at the same time on Sunday morning as those who know and have obeyed the gospel? Would we ignore the pleas from another religious group to preach the gospel to their assemblies though they also met at 10:00 Sunday morning?

We have discovered that there are some disputing brethren who are so legal oriented in their doctrine that they would judge Paul to be “forsaking the assembly” if he were to honor an invitation to preach the gospel on Sunday morning to another religious group. They would bar him from preaching the gospel to those who are searching in order that he stay with them for the “Sunday assembly.” We might thing that such a situation would be an anomaly among us. But consider the fact that almost all the gospel preachers of the brotherhood throughout the world are preaching to their own brethren on Sunday morning while there are other people of faith among the religions of the world who are asking for someone to come and preach the gospel to them.

When Peter was at a love feast with Gentiles in Antioch, the false brethren who came up from Jerusalem, intimidated him from eating the love feast with the Gentiles on Sunday (See At 20:7). He stood condemned when he submitted to the intimidation of these false brethren. He and Barnabas subsequently turned away from the Gentiles, even though these Gentiles were brethren (Gl 2:11-13). Intimidation by false brethren to remain with a particular cocoon within the church is practiced among us even to this day.

Those false brethren who would accuse Paul and Peter of “forsaking the assembly” when they reached out to others must remember that they are false because they have threatened the freedom of both Paul and Peter (Gl 5:1). They, as Diotrephes who threatened gospel evangelists from coming to his group, have hindered the preaching of the gospel (See 3 Jn 9,10). They have added to the truth of the gospel their own self-righteous codes of legalized assemblies by which they would judge others. They have thus barred others from entering into their realm of supposed authority. Since Paul, Peter and John would enter into the assemblies of other religious groups in order to preach the gospel, these false brethren tag them to be liberal teachers, and thus bar them from entering into their own sectarian assemblies.

We must also consider the two disciples, Aquila and Priscilla, who met for about a year in the Jewish synagogue in Ephesus before Paul returned to Ephesus after he had previously left the couple in the city (At 18:18,19). It was in this same synagogue that the two disciples had previously encountered Apollos (At 18:24-28). But what if Aguila and Priscilla had not followed the custom of Paul, and the other Jewish Christians of the time, to meet in the Jewish synagogues? If they had not taken this opportunity to meet with unbelievers in their religious assemblies, then we would certainly never have in the Scriptures the marvelous story of Apollos.

While in Ephesus, Paul “reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus” (At 19:9). We would correctly assume that this school existed before Paul arrived in Ephesus. We would also correctly assume that this was not a brotherhood “school of preaching” or “Christian college.” It was possibly some “vocational school” to which everyone was invited to come from throughout Asia in order to study. Upon graduation, students returned to their homes in all Asia. At least Paul’s teaching in this “secular” school resulted in all Asia hearing the word of the gospel (At 19:10).

We can only imagine that if there were some brotherhood disputers in the church in Ephesus who argued that Paul should be preaching only in the “church cocoon,” thousands throughout Asia would never have heard the gospel. The fact that Paul was able to preach the gospel in the synagogues, and in the school of Tyrannus, is evidence that the church in Ephesus understood that the nature of the gospel was that it must be broadcast to all Asia.

And still while in Ephesus, Paul again lived the gospel by seeking to go into the house of worship of a particular religious group. At the time he was in the city, “there arose a great disturbance concerning the Way” (At 19:24). A certain businessman, Demetrius, rose up in order to bring accusations against the Christians who were influencing not only the Jewish community, but also the Greek community who worshiped other gods (At 19:24-28). As a result, all the worshipers of Artemis “were full of wrath. And they cried out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (At 19:28).

The religionists of the temple of Artemis (Gr. Diana) were zealous about their faith. But as Paul’s custom was with any religious assembly, he “wanted to go into the assembly” (At 19:30). At first the disciples of Ephesus “did not allow him” (At 19:30). They were fearful for his life. However, Paul may have been somewhat persistent in the matter. Therefore, “some of the officials of Asia who were his friends sent to him, pleading with him that he not venture into the theater” (At 19:30).

Our point is that Paul was not afraid to enter the assembly of any religious people, for each assembly was an opportunity to preach the gospel. Even if he would endure possible bodily harm, he was still persistent to preach the gospel in hostile environments. His commitment to preach the gospel to religious people in any religious center came in the form of a rebuke to the disciples in Caesarea who tried to dissuade him from making a final visit to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem. He said to the brethren, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (At 21:13). If he were to die for preaching the gospel, then it would be as a result of preaching the gospel to people of faith.

Our encouragement to those who want to go into temples, synagogues, cathedrals, or the church houses of any religious group, is to go. We must not allow false brethren to dissuade us from preaching the gospel to anyone who would invite us to come. But before one would go, he must first be able to separate the gospel from doctrine, especially the unique religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that identify his own religiosity. We have found that few religious people will object to the preaching of the simple gospel.

[Next in series: April 12]

Bursting Out Of Boxes

It is so easy to move into a religious cocoon (box). And once inside, everyone who is there does not realize that they have enclosed themselves into their own warm fellowship, being unconscious of the fact that they have moved away from all other religious cocoons in the community. We would think that those who are living the gospel would behave in the reverse, just as it is in nature.

In nature, it is first the cocoon, but then there is the burst from the cocoon when the beauty of the butterfly is released into all the world. This is nature. We would think that this would be natural among those who have obeyed the gospel. But we have found in many cases that the reverse is true. In reference to the message of the gospel that must burst forth into all the world, we have discovered that many seek to function contrary to the nature of the gospel. This feeling among some is so strong that “evangelism” has simply become an exercise of inviting others to come into our own denominated cocoon, which cocoon is identified by certain trademarks that separate it from all other cocoons in the community. But this is not the nature of the gospel, nor was this the function of the early Christians.

The gospel does not develop legal cocoons into which we seek to invite others through the preaching of a list of statutes that define a particular cocoon. The gospel invites people into Christ. And it is in Christ where people of faith enjoy freedom from cocoons. Those who are obedient to the gospel are inherently free in their fellowship with one another (See 1 Jn 1:3). They are made free through grace, and thus they are in fellowship with one another by their common obedience to the gospel.

We realize that some early Jewish Christians initially had some difficulty in this area because they wanted to maintain a culturally cocooned identity of Christianity. They struggled to break down the middle wall of partition that divided Jews and Gentiles (Ep 2:14). It took a vision from God to a Christ-sent apostle, and then an angel, in order to get Peter out of his cultural cocoon and into the house of a Gentile (See At 10). And then when he was in the Gentile house, it took the Holy Spirit to signal with the speaking in languages that the gospel did not establish cultural cocoons (See At 10:44). Once the Spirit came upon the Gentiles on that occasion, by his direct question to those Jews who were with him, Peter revealed that he was convinced. He almost dared any of the Jews present to object baptizing those Gentiles in the house to which he had just preach the gospel (At 10:47).

But the preceding story was not over when those Gentiles immerged from the waters of baptism. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, “those who were of the circumcision [Jewish Christians] disputed with him” (At 11:2). They disputed with Peter for stepping outside the box of “Jewish Christianity,” and into the cocoon (house) of a Gentile. The dispute revealed that the Jerusalem cocoonists were initially more interested in preserving a Christianity that was identified by Jewish culture than by the nature of the inclusive gospel. They were very upset when they heard that Peter had stepped outside the box.

We have found that cocooned brethren have not changed much since those days. They are still disputing with those who seek to step outside the comfort of their own religious cocoon in order to take the gospel into the houses of the Gentiles. They will dispute with those who would dare take a step outside the cocoon of the saved in order to preach the gospel to the unsaved wherever they are in their houses of worship.

Fortunately for all of us who are reading this narrative, the Jewish disputers of Jerusalem repented of their waywardness. They repented of their disputing when Peter explained to them that he was on a gospel mission to preach to the Gentiles. Their repentance was according to the nature of the gospel that we must break out of denominating cocoons in order that the message of the gospel be preached in the religious cocoons of denominated religious groups wherever we are allowed in their assemblies. Luke wrote of their repentance: “When they heard these things [that were explained by Peter], they held their peace and glorified God” (At 11:18).

Nevertheless, this ordeal did not solve the Jewish cocoonism that was so prevalent in the church of Jerusalem. In fact, a few years later Paul wrote of the problem when there was an attempted legalization of the “gospel” in Jerusalem according to Jewish traditions. “This happened because of false brethren secretly brought in, who sneaked in to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gl 2:4). We must not forget that the Holy Spirit in this statement identified as false brethren those who would endanger our freedom in Christ.

It seems that after the experience of entering the house of the Gentile Cornelius, and subsequently being confronted by some disputing Jewish brethren, Peter himself could not shake off being intimidated by those who sought to bring the church into the bondage of legal theology. In fact, several years after the “disputing” encounter with some Jewish brethren in Jerusalem when he returned from the house of Cornelius, Peter went to Antioch of Syria (Gl 2:11). Upon his arrival there, he initially sat down at the dinner table with the Gentile brethren of Antioch. But when some of the Jewish cocoonist came up from Jerusalem, “he withdrew and separated himself” from the Gentile brethren (Gl 2:12). He did this because he feared those brethren from Jerusalem who were intimidating other leaders into conforming to “their gospel,” which was indeed another gospel (Gl 1:6-9). These Jewish brethren were preaching the gospel. But they were also attaching other religious rites and rituals that must be obeyed in order to be justified before God, specifically the religious rite of circumcision (See At 15:1).

The Antioch incident indeed reveals something very important in reference to the nature of the gospel of freedom that we preach. If anyone would legally bind on the church as law any cultural matter or opinion that is not bound by God, then that person is preaching a gospel of exclusion, which is another gospel. The entire letter of Galatians was written in order to confront those who preached this other gospel of legal justification.

Paul’s entire argument in Galatians is that those who have been set free in their obedience to the gospel are not to be brought into the bondage of any unique religious cocoon that is identified by religious ceremonies, rites and rituals wherein one is supposedly justified. In the following statement, Paul concluded his exhortation to the free: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gl 5:1).

We deny our freedom in Christ when we, as Peter, are intimidated to enter the house of the Gentiles. We stand condemned as Peter if we succumb to such intimidation (Gl 2:11). Since the intimidation is based on conformity to religious rites and rituals, or even customs, then we stand condemned by our failure to defend the freedom that we have in Christ through our obedience to the gospel.

For this reason, we do not see many seeking to preach the gospel in the assemblies of other cocoons other than our own. Unfortunately, we often discourage evangelists from going to assemblies where devout religious people are meeting. We have often established a culture of intimidation among ourselves that would discourage those who are gifted to preach the gospel to anyone of faith who is of another group. We would rather establish our own cocoons in which to preach “gospel meetings.” We would rather preach our own campaigns than ask other groups if we can come into their cocoon to preach the gospel that will set them free from religious cocoonism. If we are timid about answering an invitation to preach the gospel in the assembly of another church than the one for which we ordinarily preach, then we are possibly suffering from cocoonism. If we are intimmidated by others not to preach for those who invite us to come, then we, as Peter, stand condemned.

However, there may be another problem. If we dispute with those evangelists who seek to preach in every religious center throughout the world, thinking that these evangelists may be compromised in their faith, then it might be true that we are promoting a legalized “church.” We may be preaching and defending our religious heritage, and not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we may not ourselves understand the nature of the truth of the gospel, but have confused it with legal points on a doctrinal outline that identifies our particular religious group.

If this is the case, then we are in the same position as those churches who have long forgotten that “church” is the serendipity of the gospel, not the other way around. Our “gospel” message is not church, but the incarnate Son of God who is now King of kings. It is King Jesus to whom we all must be connected, not to our favorite group that is identified by a specific set of doctrines and traditions. If this is the case in reference to our discouraging others from going out among religionists to preach the truth of the gospel, then we need to take another look at the foundation of our own faith. Is the foundation for our faith the church or Christ? If it is the church, then we can be assured that we are not totally loyal to Christ. Our total loyalty to Christ may have been compromised, as the disputing brethren in the Jerusalem church who could not separate culture from Christ.

Our loyalty to Christ is revealed in our loyalty to His body. We must not compromised our loyalty to Christ with the trademarks of our own religious heritage. If we do so, then we are not the church of Christ about which we read in the New Testament.

We remember almost fifty years ago asking a local religious group if we could address the assembly of their church. After a brief “questioning” by the local pastor, we were lined up to preach one Sunday morning. We have since preached the gospel to hundreds of assemblies of people who have come together to hear more about Jesus.

Sometimes you just have to ask. And if you know the gospel, it is the gospel that people want to hear. We preach the gospel, not church. Church is the serendipity of preaching the gospel. Our behavior as the church is not the standard by which we would judge one another. We are thankful that the Holy Spirit never used the behavior of the church in Corinth as the model by which we all must judge ourselves as the church.

Unfortunately, some have preached the gospel for so long within the confines of their own halls that they have subconsciously become cocooned within ourselves. They have developed the inability to separate gospel from church, and thus when they think they are preaching the gospel, they are actually preaching church. Cocoon preachers no longer know how to preach to those who have not been cloned after their traditional assemblies. The world is not hearing the gospel message, therefore, because we have trapped the preachers of the gospel in our own assemblies Sunday after Sunday, often denying them the opportunity to go preach in some “synagogue” in the community. They have preached to the choir Sunday after Sunday for so long that they have to preach the gospel an orchestra in a house of those who want to know more about the gospel.

At the same time, we hinder the preaching of the gospel by intimidating those who would accept every invitation to preach the gospel to those who have a difficult time connecting all the gospel dots. Cocoonists often dispute with those evangelists who seek to preach the gospel to all people of faith. They do so by accusing people like Peter of “fellowshipping the Gentile denominationalists.” Or, they do so by accusing that those evangelists who are entering the synagogues of others “are no longer with us.” Or, they accuse that they have “lost the identity of our cocoon.” Sooner or later each preacher must make a decision as to whether he will join the delegation of disputers who came out to confront Peter about stepping outside the church cocoon of Jews, or whether he will join the delegation of those who were returning from the house of Cornelius. Choose your delegation.

This discusssion is all simply nonsense when we consider the nature of the gospel. The disputers have brought themselves into the bondage of their own legal cocoon by forgetting the very nature of the gospel. They do not understand that it is the nature of good news to be proclaimed to everyone, especially to those who are sitting in “synagogues,” waiting for someone to come and explain to them more perfectly the way of the Lord. It is the nature of the gospel never to form an exclusive church cocoon that would bar anyone from coming into Christ because we are afraid to take Christ into all the world.

If we presume to answer the prayer of Jesus for unity among all those who believe in Him (Jn 17:20,21), then it is certainly imperative that we are out among those who believe in Jesus in order to preach the unifying effect of the gospel.

The Holy Spirit realized that cocooning religiously was a dangerous trend into which many would fall. Throughout the metropolitan area of Ephesus there were a number of groups meeting in the homes of the members. In reference to such meetings, the Holy Spirit knew that it was natural for disciples to bond so tightly with one another that they would behave unnaturally in reference to the unifying nature of the gospel. Their fellowship with one another on a regular basis could sometimes lend them to being exclusive of others. Therefore, He mandated that all the disciples in Ephesus be “eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ep 4:3). This mandate was not to some autonomous group on Main Street. It was directed to each individual member of the body throughout the area of Ephesus, regardless of where each member sat on Sunday morning.

On his last visit to Ephesus, Paul warned the leaders of the church that the time would come when some home assemblies among all the disciples would cocoon themselves under different leaders. He warned,

“For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves” (At 20:29,30).

It is significant to note that it would specifically be some among the leaders who would draw away disciples after themselves. These would be leaders as Diotrephes who would form their own autonomous groups over which they would exercise control through intimidation (3 Jn 9,10). As those Jewish leaders who came to Antioch in order to intimidate Peter, leaders as Diotrephes intimidate evangelists from going into the houses of the Gentiles, or synagogues of the Jews, or even the temples of the idolaters (3 Jn 10). It is simply the nature of cocoonists to establish their own autonomous cocooned assemblies that they legally identify by a code of laws, or the dominance of their favorite personality. All those who do not conform to the code of the cocoon, or the demands of the separatist leader, have “left the church.” Or as in the case of Diotrephes, they are kicked out of the church (3 Jn 10).

No one group of disciples should withdraw themselves from any other group of disciples simply because they are familiar only with the behavior performance of their own assembly. There is no assembly behavior prescribed in the New Testament that would warrant us to establish an assembly standard by which we would judge any other assembly of saints to be “scriptural”. Cocoonism is simply contrary to the nature of the universal fellowship of the body of Christ that is produced by the gospel, regardless of where the members sit on Sunday. It is for this reason that their is absolutely no example in the New Testament of one group of disciples separating themselves as a group from any other group of disciples.

If any one group of disciples would live after the nature of the gospel, then that group must always be eager to fellowship other disciples who have also obeyed the gospel. They must also be eager to send disciples into the houses of the unbelievers in order to preach the gospel. We must do this in order that others also enjoy the unity that all Christians have in Christ. Gospel brings us together. However, if we are in the bondage of religion, then we keep moving further away from one another.

In fact, if one group of disciples seeks to withdraw themselves from another group, then it is evident that the group that takes the initiative to withdraw from other groups on the basis of “doctrinal matters” has defined itself to be involved in religion. The members have so defined themselves because such group division is contrary to the very nature of the gospel. We see no groups of disciples in the first century withdrawing from other groups on the basis of doctrinal matters. Withdraw behavior is always in reference to individuals, not groups of disciples.

[Next in series: April 12]